Sunday, 31 January 2010

Wylfa: to B, or not to B?


    
Albert Owen MP pops up in the Letters Page of the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail this week to sling mud at the newly appointed Tory candidate, Anthony Ridge-Newman, and the Conservative Party's position on Wylfa B.

Albert thunders, "David Cameron’s closest energy advisor Zac Goldsmith clearly states that if the party sticks to its existing policy it would never allow the building of a new nuclear power station. Well that rules out Wylfa B under the Tories."

If Wylfa B is given the go-ahead it could provide up to 9,000 construction jobs and a further 1,000 to 1,200 highly-skilled, permanent and well paid nuclear jobs. Accordingly, on an island struggling with vast job losses, Wylfa B offers a path to some kind economic salvation - and the quarrel over whether the project will proceed or not will undoubtedly be the defining issue of the 2010 General Election on Anglesey. Albert Owen's letter to the Mail effectively signals the start of the general election campaign on Ynys Mon.

As this is such an important issue for Anglesey the Druid thinks Albert's letter represents the perfect opportunity to examine his claims and to compare and contrast where all the major parties stand on the issue of nuclear power and the building of Wylfa B.

Labour

Let's start with Labour itself. In his letter to the Mail, Albert Owen lauds the Labour party's "political leadership and vision on energy projects including Wylfa". 

Yet with most nuclear plants (including the current Wylfa reactor) and half of UK's coal plants due to close over the coming decade, the Department of Energy and Climate Change itself estimates that, of a total of around 75GW in generating capacity, 20GW will disappear by 2015. And as the current peak demand is around 65GW and growing, that means that the UK could be facing energy blackouts by as soon as 2015 - as shown in the excellent graphic below from the Economist:



But surely we can either extend the life of some of the existing reactors or quickly build some new ones to avoid blackouts, right? 

Wrong. Most nuclear plants are over 25 years old and far too ancient to carry on. Wylfa was granted a nine month life extension but after that point it simply will have to close. And, on top of that, even the most optimistic nuclear engineers don't beleive a new nuclear reactor could come online before 2017 - which will already be too late. Plus lets not forget that EU carbon trading regulations will pretty much prevent the building of any new coal-fired coal plants.

Suddenly Albert Owen's lauding of Labour's "vision" and "leadership" on Energy Policy looks very hollow indeed - if not downright deceitful.

As the Druid noted previously when writing about Anglesey Aluminium, the current government has failed to deal with one of the most fundamental requirements of a modern society - a secure and efficient electricity supply:

While it has been pratting around with its obsession with "renewable energy" ... pushing the proliferation of useless windmills across the land, it has taken its eye off the ball and let vitally needed supplies run down. This is nothing short of criminal negligence that will cost our economy – and us – dear.
Well, they may have screwed that all up, but at least the Labour leadership is 100% behind Wylfa B, right?

Wrong again. Jane Davidson, the Labour Assembly Member and Welsh Environment Minster has demanded a public inquiry "on the grounds of concern over the safety and security of the management of future nuclear waste". We are still waiting to hear whether Westminster will accede to her request or not.

Albert Owen is obviously keen to throw as much mud as possible at the Tories in order to divert Anglesey's electors away from his own Party's dismal record on Energy Policy and the mixed messages coming from the Labour top brass about the desirability of Wylfa B.

Conservatives

As noted above, Albert Owen slams Anthony Ridge-Newman's support for Wylfa B by saying "David Cameron’s closest energy advisor Zac Goldsmith clearly states that if the party sticks to its existing policy it would never allow the building of a new nuclear power station".  Its certainly true that Goldsmith said that - but what exactly is the Conservatives' 'existing policy'? Well, the Conservative Party website clarifies the issue like this:

Nuclear power will be part of the energy mix if it is economically viable, but new nuclear power stations should not leave taxpayers with liabilities for their running, decommissioning or waste. Nuclear is not an alternative to developing and expanding renewable forms of energy.
In other words: a Conservative government will only allow new nuclear reactors to be built as long as they do not require any public subsidy during any stage of their life. On Goldsmith's own blog he expands:

There should be zero subsidies (direct or indirect) for nuclear, and nuclear providers must demonstrate an ability to cover future costs of waste disposal and decommissioning. My view – shared by almost all the energy experts I’ve consulted - is that there can be no new nuclear power without government support. There never has been ... Subsidies should be for start up, immature technologies.
So its clear that the Conservatives do not oppose nuclear power per se, they oppose the need for public money to support what should be private enterprise. 


But hold on a moment - as recently as last week Philip Hunt, the Labour minister of state at the Department of Energy and Cimate Change, said that Labour's policy was:
"absolutely clear" that the cost of new nuclear power plants must be met in full by the commercial companies themselves, including the cost of decommissioning and waste management.
Which appears to be exactly identical to the Conservatives' position. So Albert Owen is effectively attacking the Conservative Party for having exactly the same policy as his own Party! What a twpsyn!


Anyway, we can conclude that the construction of Wylfa B will be supported by either a Labour OR Conservative government as long as the E.ON and RWE Npower joint venture (which has bought the land around the exisiting Wylfa reactor to develop Wylfa B) does not require any public subsidy.


Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru has a long tradition of opposition to nuclear power, as the following clips from various manifestos reveal:

  • 1997 General Election Manifesto: "Nuclear energy is now a broken dream. The only safe way forward is to reduce the demand for energy and develop the use of renewables." 
  • 1999 Assembly Election Manifesto: "We will operate on the basis of a presumption against further open cast mining and nuclear power stations."
  • 2001 General Election Manifesto: "As our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced and since nuclear energy is not an acceptable option, we shall press for very substantial growth in renewable energy."
  • 2003 Assembly Election Manifesto: "We will call for the devolution of responsibility for large-scale energy projects to the Assembly. This will enable us to block any new nuclear energy stations."
  • 2005 General Election Manifesto: "Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales does not support new nuclear power stations."
  • 2007 Pre-manifesto, Change for the Better: "Plaid Cymru does not support nuclear power."
And here's the relevant snippet from their most recent Manifesto for the 2009 Euro Elections:



So underlined in big bold black letters they "reaffirm our total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales". Notice the weasel word "new" however - which allows Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid Leader and AM for Anglesey, to simultaneously stand for both "no nuclear power" and for "nuclear power in Anglesey as it is not a new power station". 


Like the White Queen in Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking Glass", Ieuan Wyn Jones has an uncanny ability to believe in as many as two impossible things before breakfast. No wonder he's into Unicorns too.

Lib Dems

Opposed. Nothing more to add.


Conclusions


Nuclear energy is an emotive subject and, as we have seen above, leads politicians to tie themselves up in knots so as to be on both sides of the argument at the same time (*cough* Ieuan Wyn Jones *cough*). However as the construction of new Nuclear Reactors is not a devolved matter, we can discount Plaid's wriggly, slippery behaviour. Likewise we can ignore the Lib Dems total opposition as they have no chance of forming the next Administration. That leaves us with Labour and the Conservatives.


As the Druid's investigations prove above, Albert Owen's letter to the Mail is misleading in many ways - the most outrageous being his attacking the Conservatives for having exactly the same nuclear policy as his own Labour party! However, that said, it would appear that neither the Labour Party (excepting Jane Davidson AM) nor the Conservative Party would oppose the construction of Wylfa B as long as E.ON and RWE Npower joint venture does not requite public subsidy.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Carving up Anglesey

       Current Anglesey Electoral Divisions

The Boundaries Commission for Wales revealed their draft proposals this week for adjusting the council electoral boundaries in Anglesey.

Anglesey currently has an electorate of 50,793 persons and is divided into 40 wards, all of which return a single Councillor to represent them - meaning that currently each Anglesey Councillor represents an average of 1,270 persons. However, the Assembly Local Government minister, Brain Gibbons, has directed that the ideal in Wales should be to have a councillor to electorate ratio of no less than 1;1750 - a criteria which currently only four Anglesey electoral divisions meet (Cwm Cadnant, Llaneilian, Llanfair-yn-Neubwll and Treaddur). In fact, some electoral divisions currently have considerably less than 1000 electors:

Holyhead Town                    646 electors Labour
Rhosneigr                             748 electors Independent
Cadnant (Menai Bridge) 819 electors     Menai
Moelfre 860 electors Anglesey Forward
Tudur (Llangefni) 898 electors Independent
London Road (Holyhead)        900 electors Labour
Parc a'r Mynydd (Holyhead)    915 electors Independent
Morawelon (Holyhead) 937 electors Labour
Amlwch Rural 978 electors Anglesey Forward
Kingsland (Holyhead)             995 electors Labour

What becomes immediately apparent is that Holyhead - currently returning a total of seven Councillors - is grossly over-represented compared to the majority of the rest of the Island. For example the ward of Llaneilan (Lib Dem, but sits with Original Independents) has one councillor representing over 1,800 people -- three times as many people as in the ward of Holyhead Town which also has one councillor (Labour). There is obviously something wrong here.

The Boundaries Commission has recognised these problems and have therefore proposed to:

  • even out the councillor to electorate ratio throughout all wards on the island;
  • reduce the total number of Councillors from 40 to 35 so as to achieve an average councillor to electorate ratio of 1,450:1
Accordingly to do this they have fiddled with the boundaries of most electoral divisions to add or remove various wards so as to achieve the above average councillor to electorate ratio. For the problem areas of Holyhead and Menai Bridge they have made more serious changes:

  • The current electoral divisions of Holyhead Town, Porthyfelin and Parc a'r-Mynydd will be combined into a new electoral division called Holyhead Town containing 3,072 electors. This new division will be a be represented by two councillors.
  • The current Morawelon, London Road, Kingsland and Maeshyfryd divisions will also be combined into one new electoral division called Morawelon. This new division will be represented by three councillors.
  • The Braint and Cadnant wards will be combined to create one new electoral division called Braint. This new division will be represented by two councillors.
  • You can see the full details of all changes here

Of course, several councillors are up in arms at the proposal to reduce their number down to 35. However when you consider that seven councillors (i.e. 20% of the total) were returned unopposed at the last local elections in 2008, it seems to the Druid that reducing the number of Councillors will improve rather than harm democracy on Anglesey. Plus, as per my previous post, the Isle of Anglesey's Councillors need a good kick up the backside to focus their attention on addressing the serious problems we are currently facing - the Boundary Commission's report delivered just such a well aimed blow to their collective fattened rear-ends.
     

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Why I still disagree with Plaid Cymru's Pensions Pledge


    
Last week the Druid wrote a post on Plaid Cymru's election pledge to increase state pensions by 30%, saying that this was politics at its most cynical. In fact I went further and called it 'fraud' as Plaid Cymru knows perfectly well that they will never be in a position to implement it.

A number of people have commented on the post stating why they believe it is fair for Plaid Cymru to clarify what their MPs will fight for should they be elected to Westminster - and especially in the case of a hung election, they argue, such pledges would form the bargaining chips of their support.

These are fair points intelligently made - however I'm afraid that the Druid still does not agree. And for the reason, see this graph:



The Druid is above all else a democrat , i.e. he believes passionately that democracy is the best form of government and produces the best outcomes. However, for democracy to function the electorate has to be able to reasonably trust and believe that political parties will fulfil their pledges - otherwise it becomes impossible for them to make clear, informed choices when balloted. The above graphic shows the result of a poll held in PoliticsHome last week of 1,193 UK voters when asked how likely they believed each of the three main political parties were to fulfil their manifesto promises (unfortunately the didn't include Plaid Cymru in the survey). As you can see, the figures for Labour are appalling. Less than half of Labour's own 'natural supporters' believe that Labour will actually honour the election pledges they have made. Many commenters have stated that this is a disaster for the Labour Party - I disagree, this is a disaster for democracy.

I'm not just pointing the finger at Labour either - I  think that it is pretty poor than only 70% of people trust the Conservatives and Lib Dems' pledges too! When electors don't believe that political parties will fulfil their promises, they become disillusioned with politics, decide not to vote, and democracy eventually breaks down.

Plaid Cymru is not only damaging it own reputation by making such obviously unachievable pledges - it is also insidiously damaging the democratic system and the Druid will not stand for that.
    

Monday, 25 January 2010

What "Lettergate" tells us about Anglesey County Council

    


The background to David Bowles apocalyptic letter to all Ynys Môn councillors has now been widely reported (here for example) and the allegations can best be described as a storm in a teacup.


Of far more interest is the fact that Bowles' letter proves that Anglesey County Council is still actively at war with itself: Councillors against Officers. This comes just months after a damning Corporate Governance report by the Auditor General for Wales and severe warnings form Welsh Assembly local government minister, Dr Brian Gibbons, that unless things improve the council will be taken over and run from Cardiff.


David Bowles has been a controversial figure (there are questions regarding his departure as Chairman of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust for instance) but he also appears to be a man of great personal integrity. Whilst Bowles was Chief Executive of Lincolnshire County Council from 1999 to 2004 the then Leader of that Council, Jim Speechley was jailed for 18 months after being convicted of misconduct in public office. It was Bowles who called in the police when Speechley tried to influence the route of a new bypass in a bid to increase the value of the land he owned. For this Bowles was named Private Eye magazine's "2004 Man of Year" - but also effectively hounded out of office. We must also remember that he is an outsider who had never set foot in Anglesey before October last year - yet we are still seeing the same patterns of behaviour by certain Councillors which were first criticised by the Welsh Audit Office over a year ago in January 2009.


Its an absolute disgrace that at a time of absolute economic havoc on the island with over 3,000 jobs having been lost in a very short period of time and the decommissioning of the only other major private sector employer, Wylfa power station, only months away, some of Anglesey's Councillors are content to expend their time and energy pursuing pathetic little vendettas. Anglesey needs and deserves better than this.


There needs to be far greater scrutiny of our Councillors. They collectively control a budget of almost £170 million and are responsible for, among other things, the education of our children, health and social care issues, planning, leisure facilities, our island environment and so on.  However during the last local council elections in 2008 seven of the 40 Councillors (i.e. almost 20%) were returned to office unopposed. This is surely not good for democracy. 


Furthermore, with the exception of Labour and Plaid Cymru councillors, they do not divide along party political lines but instead sit in opaque factions with names such as:


  • Original Independents (Annibynol Gwreiddiol)
  • Menai
  • Anglesey Forward
  • and a couple of 'Unaffiliateds'


What policies each of these groups actually stand for is a mystery to virtually all voters - which makes the decision of who to vote for especially difficult.


The Council is in financial crisis having to find £2.1 million in cuts this year (necessitating a 2% cut in the critical Education budget causing the closure of several local schools) whilst at the same time raising Council Tax levels by 15% over three years. Yet some of our Councillors appear complacent and wholly engrossed in factional infighting - in other words they are fiddling whilst Môn burns. Come the next local council elections in May 2012 the Druid hopes that Anglesey residents will take the opportunity to permanently eject those Councillors who are clearly not taking their responsibilities seriously.


-----------------


For those who have the stomach to bear it, a timeline of the whole sorry affair is set out below:


Timeline of Crisis at Anglesey County Council


January 20, 2010: Anglesey County Council Managing Director, David Bowles, sends a letter to all councillors stating:


The council "has been bedevilled by personality driven, petty parochial vindictive factional infighting. This is a disgraceful example of an attempt to use an officer as the meat in the middle of the sandwich of personality driven infighting; even worse those involved see nothing wrong with dragging an officer's personal and private life into these matters … I did consider marking this letter Private and Confidential but decided against it on the basis that it would get leaked anyway. I regret having to write to all Members in these terms rather than just the few but that is a consequence of how the few conduct themselves … Those few who put their petty spiteful factional infighting above the interests of the island have no place on this council...".


It transpires certain councillors had been questioning his housing arrangement prompting the above furious reaction.


December 29, 2009: David Bowles reports "Significant progress has already been made in a number of areas which will help move the authority forward, improve relationships, self regulation and reputation." He eats these words one month later.


October 2009: David Bowles appointed new interim Managing Director of Anglesey County Council by Welsh Assembly Local Government Minister, Dr Brian Gibbons.


July 21, 2009:  Welsh Assembly Local Government Minister, Dr Brian Gibbons, meets with senior Anglesey County Council councillors and officials to discuss the damning Auditor General’s report.  He announces that a "Recovery Board" will now be set up to oversee the council’s operations and oversee the implement over 18 months of a seven-point plan drawn up by the Wales Audit Office. If this is not done he warns that the Welsh Assembly could impose sanctions including direct rule from Cardiff.


June 2009:  A corporate governance report on Anglesey County Council by Jeremy Colman, Auditor General for Wales, is released. In it he says the council has a history of “not being properly run” and was dogged by poor behaviour by a small number of councillors. It also adds all these issues had been left largely unaddressed since the council was established in 1996 – despite a number of previous external reviews.


June 20, 2009: Following a FOI request the contents of former Council Leader Phil Fowlie's letter of December 18, 2008, to the Welsh Auditor Office are revealed. This prompts nine members of the County Council corporate management team to respond with their own letter to executive members and the WAO's Mr Morris, describing the allegations as “demonstrably false”. Further they state that far from wanting the executive to fail, any failure of the executive would have been “our failure”. They say the executive had not let senior officers know their expectations. They deny claims the Human Resources department was failing over staff sickness and said the council had secured a substantial reduction in absences. Furthermore they absolutely deny the “Graigwen” allegations.


May 5, 2009: Former police superintendent, Cllr Clive McGregor, is appointed unopposed as the new Council Leader. He pledges to “steer a steady course through choppy waters” and said he hoped all 40 members could now work together to get the council through an investigation, adding “I don’t want Anglesey to continue to be disgraced in the media."


April 29, 2009: Anglesey Council Leader, Cllr Phil Fowlie, announces he is to step down on health grounds


April 8, 2009:  Council Chief Executive, Mr Derrick Jones, leaves his £120,000 a year position "by mutual consent".


March 25, 2009:  Council Opposition leader, John Chorlton, sends an open letter to all Anglesey county councillors claiming there is a "vendetta" to oust Chief Executive Derrick Jones. He claims Council Leader Phil Fowlie and Cllr Bob Parry told him they wanted to end Jones's contract at an upcoming extraordinary meeting of the full council. In his letter Chorlton says Derrick Jones is “the victim of a small group of councillors who are on a path of vendetta against those willing to stand up to them … This is my appeal to those councillors who are sitting on the fence and letting this happen. They have to use their vote now to stop this happening. I have spoken to them and they can give me no good reason why he should go.”


January 2009: The Welsh Audit Office "Annual Letter" on Anglesey County Council is published detailing an "erosion of trust" between executive members and ruling councillors. It said tensions between some executive members and corporate officers had seen a breakdown in communications at the top level:


Difficulties in relationships between some Executive Members and senior officers ... have prevented us from completing this work. This was partly because many councillors were unwilling to participate in planned workshops due to tensions between them and some senior officers. This has led us to the interim conclusion that the Council does not appear to have unified political and managerial leadership. We have come to this conclusion because:

  • the absence of unified leadership has the potential to cause reputational damage and deflect senior officer and member time away from providing the necessary corporate governance of the Council; and

  • there appears to have been an erosion of trust between some senior councillors and officers.
    This lack of unified leadership has become apparent during the preparation of this Annual Letter. During the drafting of the Letter the Appointed Auditor and Relationship Manager have had separate meetings with and comments from the Executive Members and the management team. The comments received from the Council Leader on behalf of the Executive Members are very critical of many of the actions of the corporate management team. This situation illustrates the erosion of trust and effective communication between some members and officers.


It further warns that the situation risked damaging the reputation of the local authority and recommended that the Auditor General, Jeremy Colman, should be brought in to inspect.


December 18, 2008: Council Leader Phil Fowlie sends a confidential letter to Alan Morris of the Welsh Audit Office alleging:


  • Officers wanted some, if not all the executive to fail
  • Officers dragged their heels over implementing the island’s school re-organisation programme
  • Officers failed to offer “any assistance” to the executive on governing Anglesey council
  • Officers failed to attempt to resolve a “serious issue with sickness” with council staff
  • The corporate management team displayed a lack of “honesty” and “integrity”, in the manner in which they handled the “Graigwen” issue.


The contents of this letter only became public in June 2009 following a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request. The essence of the matter seems to be that Chief Executive Derrick Jones is seen as being closer to the Opposition than the ruling Original Independent and Plaid Cymru coalition.


December 2008: Cllr McGregor writes a stinging letter to managing director Derrick Jones suggesting officers were covering up issues on Graigwen. The letter states:


"Graigwen is one of several issues highlighted by Price Waterhouse Coopers, where this authority has serious corporate governance issues. As a new councillor and executive member I have been dismayed by the obvious distrust shown to us by senior officers. It pains me greatly but doesn't surprise me given that the issues surrounding Graigwen have eroded whatever trust and confidence there might be between the ruling administration and certain members of the corporate management team. It may be that we require a police investigation into the issue as offences of malfeasance in public office would appear to be made out. It is only then that confidence in the Isle of Anglesey County Council would be apparent."


May 2008: Cllr Phil Fowlie becomes Council Leader as head of a coalition of Original Independents and Plaid Cymru after the May 2008 local elections.


August 2007: The Graigwen property in Amlwch is purchased in auction for £300,000 by Anglesey County Council. Bidding against the council officers was Cllr Elwyn Schofield, now the authority’s property portfolio holder, who at the time had not attended council meetings for months due to a long term illness. Questions are immediately asked as to why it was bought as the Council already has access to its other property and because Graigwen is built on solid rock and therefore not developable.


July 2007: At an executive meeting, council officers were sanctioned to take part in an auction to purchase a property in Amlwch, called "Graigwen", in order to give the council access to its own land behind the house. However at a later date it transpires that this meeting was technically incorrect as the wrong councillor chaired the meeting:  The then Council Leader, Cllr Gareth Winston Roberts, declared an interest in the decision as Graigwen is in his constituency of Amwlch, and brought in council chairman Cllr WJ Williams to chair the meeting, instead of deputy leader Cllr John Meirion Davies. Cllr Gareth Winston Roberts later admits that the deputy leader should have chaired the meeting in his place, not the chairman, who was meant to be politically neutral and not part of discussions on the executive committee. The controversial decision of who chaired the meeting later was cleared by the auditors Price Waterhouse Coopers, as they decided the mistake not to pass the decision to the deputy leader was only a technical breach, and the decision would have been the same whoever had sat in the chair.


November 2006: Derrick Jones appointed Managing Director of Anglesey County Council.
      

Friday, 22 January 2010

Are you local?

     
Cambria Politico has taken newly appointed Ynys Môn Conservative Candidate, Anthony Ridge-Newman, to task:
ARE THE Tories committing political suicide in Anglesey?
And even if the party is not committing suicide on the island, their choice of a rank outsider who has probably hardly been to the island, or indeed to Wales, demands that the gent concerned must be politically neutered before he sets foot in parliament.
According to the way that the Commons is currently operating, any MP from Wales can help strike down law-making proposals produced by the democratically-elected Assembly in Cardiff.
Unless Mr  Anthony Ridge-Newman, the newly-selected Tory candidate from Surrey, can reveal that he knows a hell of a lot about Wales, he should take a string of cotton to the Commons when (more probably, if) he ever enters it.  With the aid of a needle, he should tightly sow his mouth shut so that he never has any effect on anything to be with the governance of this country.
Ridge-Newman replies here:
For many personal reasons, my family roots in Pontycymmer are very special to me and my late mother.  If I had been a girl (no jokes please!) my mother would have named me after my Grandma Rachel Williams who was born and grew up on Cuckoo Street, Pontycymmer.  My cousin (the first girl of my generation) got the honour instead. The last time I was there, was not long before my mother died. She wanted me to take her there for obvious reasons. Every time we go there, it becomes more like a ghost town.  This has saddened me and is what has inspired me to get involved in the future of Wales. 
So what have we learned by this spat? That the Tories might have selected a Rachel Ridge-Newman instead? Not particularly illuminating. The Druid wants to hear about something called P-O-L-I-C-I-E-S, or in layman's language: "How the bloody hell do any of the parties propose to get Ynys Môn out of this mess"?

Anyway, as this discussion of who comes from where will obviously run and run on the island, lets take a look at all the candidates:

- Albert Owen (Labour): Holyhead, Anglesey
- Dylan Rees (Plaid Cymru): Carmarthenshire, South Wales
- Anthony Ridge-Newman (Conservative): Worcestershire, England
- Matt Wood (lib Dem): St Asaph, North Wales
- Peter Rogers (Independent): Wrexham, North Wales  
And a bonus extra: Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid Cymru AM for Anglesey): Denbigh, North Wales

So actually only Albert Owen is really from Anglesey. Its certainly a worrying sign that the island has not been able to generate more than one home-grown candidate - what does this say for any of the Political party's engagement with Ynys Môn residents? 

Anyway, can we now move on to discussing policy please?
         

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hain denounces "apocalyptic tales" of mass job losses

  
Much good cheer in the newspapers today as it was announced that unemployment in Wales fell by 8,000 jobs in the three months up to November. The number of people now out of work in the Principality is 121,000 and those claiming Jobseekers allowance was also down by 1,300 to 79,200. All of this is welcome news at a time like this.

The Kenyan, Peter Hain, sensing his moment, popped up to denounce the "apocalyptic tales of mass job losses" and pointed out that "this Government has been investing to ensure short-term job losses are not allowed to turn into long-term unemployment".

You heard that right: all of those poor folks at Anglesey Aluminium (400 jobs), Eaton Electric (250 jobs), Peboc (100 jobs), Vion (140 jobs), Menai Electrical (50 jobs), Anglesey Country foods (200 jobs) and the estimated 1,800 other lost jobs that were dependent on the employment within these companies - none of these people have actually lost their jobs according to Hain. Mass job losses have not occurred - the roughly 3,000 jobs lost on Anglesey were just "apocalyptic tales", figments of their and our imaginations. Fairy tales pedalled by the opposition parties.

The Druid is glad that the rest of Wales seems to be recovering from the recession. However he can assure Mr Hain that mass job losses have not been fairy tales on Anglesey - they are very much a reality.
        

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Anglesey County Council: "bedevilled by personality driven, petty parochial vindictive factional infighting"

  

David Bowles

BBC Wales's Betsan Powys is reporting on her blog an extraordinary letter written by Anglesey County Council's Managing Director, David Bowles, to all Councillors.

The full text is not yet available, but Betsan picks up the following quotes:

The council "has been bedevilled by personality driven, petty parochial vindictive factional infighting. This is a disgraceful example of an attempt to use an officer as the meat in the middle of the sandwich of personality driven infighting; even worse those involved see nothing wrong with dragging an officer's personal and private life into these matters".
"I have been appointed by the Minister and ... am therefore not bound by some of the constraints which may face other officers within local authorities".
"I did consider marking this letter Private and Confidential but decided against it on the basis that it would get leaked anyway. I regret having to write to all Members in these terms rather than just the few but that is a consequence of how the few conduct themselves".

Extraordinary is certainly the word - and shows that the problems which have beset the Council for the past few years are by no means over.

Bowles was appointed last year by Local Government minister, Dr Brian Gibbons, following a damning report on Anglesey County Council's performance by the Auditor General for Wales. Bowles himself is no stranger to controversy having been suspended from his last job as Chairman of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.

More information as soon as the Druid has it...

UPDATE: Here is another quote from the letter:

"...Those few who put their petty spiteful factional infighting above the interests of the island have no place on this council..."
  

A note on Plaid Cymru's Election Strategy

  
Following on from the Druid's recent post on Ieuan Wyn Jones's pensions announcement, I thought it would be interesting to add a short post scriptum on the symbology behind this announcement and its significance in illuminating Plaid Cymru's election strategy.

Of course Ieuan Wyn Jones gave his speech in Mountain Ash which is smack bang in the middle of the former constituency of 'Merhyr Tydfil and Aberdare' - a seat once held by Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party and their first MP. Even to this day, this area is proudly Labour supporting as the recent YouGov Wales polls shows:



The figures above also show that it is one of the areas where Plaid Cymru struggles the most - probably through failing to find traction for a nationalist agenda in a mostly English speaking area. The people here vote Labour because they always have - its part of their Valleys, working class identity. However, there aren't many ex-miners in the more metropolitan inclined Labour party of today, dominated by such people as Peter Mandelson, Harriet Harman, Alastair Darling, the Miliband Brothers and so on - all from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. No doubt people in Mountain Ash and elsewhere in South Wales are struggling to identify with the party they were always brought up to believe they should vote for - and it is this, coupled with the general current unpopularity of the Labour Party, which Plaid Cymru is obviously trying to exploit.

They have realised that the 2010 General Election is an opportunity to extend their vote from beyond their normal heartlands of Anglesey, Gwynedd and West Wales - but only if they can broaden their appeal by stealing some of Labour's traditional values. Hence Ieuan Wyn Jones's speech on "fairness" and "a living pension" given symbolically in Keir Hardie's old constituency.

Its a clever strategy and could well work - it also means Labour has to work harder for the South Wales votes they have increasingly taken for granted. But, as per my previous post, it would probably be much more effective if Plaid Cymru focussed on promoting policies which they at least have some chance of implementing - to do otherwise just makes them look silly and not serious.
      

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Rising Inflation rates will sink Anglesey

    



This morning the Office for National Statistics (ONS) disclosed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in December jumped by the largest ever single month increase since records began in 1996; furthermore the Retail Price Index (RPI) also rose by the largest amount since back in 1979. They now stand at:

  • CPI 2.9%
  • RPI 2.4%

Both the CPI and RPI are measures of the average price of a standard group of goods and services - called a 'basket' - bought by a typical household. The main difference between them is that the RPI also includes Housing / Mortgage costs.

We can look at them as an index of generally how much or less we have to spend to buy the same essential items which we all buy each month: things like groceries, clothing, petrol or diesel for the car, electricity, pet food, haircuts, and so on.

These huge jumps mean that, on average, pretty much everything is now 2.9% MORE expensive than it was previously - and, remember, that is before we also add in the the additional 2.5% VAT increase which kicked in this month. In other words household bills are going to cost on average up to 5.4% MORE than they did last year - which is not good news for the hundreds of Anglesey households who are already suffering from the recent spate of job losses at Anglesey Aluminium, Welsh Country Foods and elsewhere. Its a real "Double Whammy" for them.

This huge rise in inflation is a direct consequence of the huge sums of money the Labour Government has been printing each month in order to pay for ever increasing levels of national debt. Its good for the Government as it means it can 'inflate away' a portion of its debt, but leaves each and every one of us with any savings or a fixed income poorer as a result. And Anglesey, already the poorest county in the UK, will be disproportionately hit yet again as the average income here is that much less than elsewhere.
  

Monday, 18 January 2010

Ieuan Wyn Jones promises a free unicorn to everyone who votes Plaid

  
The Druid had no intention of writing two posts on Plaid Cymru in succession today - but then he saw this:




Plaid leader - and local Anglesey Swansea Denbigh boy - Ieuan wyn Jones AM will apparently unveil during a speech this evening that if Plaid win the General Election they will introduce a guaranteed state pension which would be set at the rate of the pension credit, in other words:

At present, pension credit is means-tested and has to be applied for. The lower basic state pension will rise in April to £97.65 for a single person and £132.60 for a couple. Under Plaid’s promise, all single pensioners would get the pension credit rate of £156.15 while couples would receive £202.40 – increases of just under 30% and 35% respectively.

Apparently the £20bn extra cost this would entail would be paid for through scrapping ID Cards and Trident in addition to raising taxes for everyone earning over £100K.

Sounds great - all Plaid Cymru needs to do is win 324 seats in the General Election to obtain a majority and then they can implement this election pledge. Oh, wait, Plaid only actually contests 40 seats - so on top of winning every seat in Wales they'll also need to win another 284 seats elsewhere in the country… that could prove tricky so its a good job that responsibility for Pensions has been devolved to the Welsh Assembly where Plaid Cymru is currently in a coalition government with Labour - otherwise they could never implement this election pledge. Oh, wait - that hasn't happened either.

This is politics at its most cynical. Plaid Cymru have made an election pledge to Wales' pensioners which they know they have absolutely no chance whatsoever to implement. In the business world this is called 'fraud' - as an ex-solicitor I'd have thought Ieuan Wyn Jones would know something about that. 

Rather than bribing voters with empty promises, far better that Plaid spent some time thinking about pledges they can actually deliver. For instance, although the Welsh Assembly Government does not have authority over pensions, it does have responsibilities for:


  • education
  • health
  • local government
  • transport
  • planning
  • economic development
  • social care
  • culture
  • environment
  • agriculture and rural affairs

The list includes Local Government so here's one the Druid would suggest to Ieuan Wyn for starters: how about actually implementing one of the election pledges you made as the last elections in 2007, i.e. to lift 50,000 Welsh businesses out of paying Business Rates?

Who knows - if Plaid Cymru had actually introduced that pledge back in 2007 then perhaps just some of the many businesses in Anglesey which have gone bust would still be around? 
   

Plaid's Dylan Rees: The Anointed One?

  


Seeing as William Hill have decided that Plaid Cymru's Dylan Rees is the overwhelming odds-on favourite to take the Ynys Môn seat at the General Election its only proper that the Druid takes a critical look at the 'anointed one'.

So what do we know about Rees?

The first surprising thing we learn about Rees is that he's not actually from Anglesey - in fact, he's not even really from North Wales. He was born in Carmarthenshire in South Wales and brought up in Northumbria, before moving to Wrexham with his parents when he was 10 years old - when he also began learning Welsh. So, like the Conservative's Anthony Ridge-Newman, Rees is not a true 'local' candidate. The Conservatives have been criticised in the local press and by residents in general for their controversial selection - but is it not a little curious that in the constituency that Plaid Cymru recorded their second largest vote in North Wales (11,036 votes) that they were also not able to find a true local candidate? Has the example of Ieuan Wyn Jones not inspired anybody? Anybody…?

Anyway, after studying Politics and Law at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, Rees went on to spend most of his working life as a Police Officer throughout North Wales including stints at Llangefni and Amlwch, before landing up as an District Inspector in and Holyhead. (Incidentally, what is it about Plaid Cymru's rather creepy obsession with selecting ex-Police Officers as candidates - they now have no fewer than three PPCs in North Wales who are ex-North Wales Constabulary men). Rees left the Force in 2003 in order to "pursue his political ambitions" and also landed a job as  Senior Homelessness Officer for Ynys Môn County Council at the same time.

Now at the top of his Plaid Cymru Candidates page he lists his three top pledges for Ynys Môn if elected as:

  • Tackle the Island's law and order difficulties
  • Make more homes available for local people
  • Transform the island's economy

Its informative that he mentions the economy last - almost like an afterthought. And his 1st and 2nd pledges only ranked as the 7th and 13th most important issues to North Wales residents in the latest Wales YouGov poll. Rees might want to reconsider his priorities.

Anyway, as an ex-Policeman perhaps its obvious that he might choose Law and Order as his top pledge - surely this is his area of competency, right? Well, as Rees retired in 2003 as District Inspector for Holyhead, lets take a look at the crime statistics for Anglesey during his last two years and see. Luckily the figures for 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 are recorded in Hansard in a Home Office reply given on 17th May, 2004:




So domestic burglaries in Anglesey more than doubled during this period - a dramatic increase and much, much larger than any other region in North Wales. And on top of that violent crimes also increased by over 50%! Assuming Rees was the top man in holyhead at least during this period it doesn't look like a very good record to the Druid.

Another question that immediately jumps into the Druid's mind are to what extent does Dylan share his views on Policing with his ex-boss, North Wales ex-Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom? To residents of Anglesey Brunstrom will need no introduction, but to those who don't know him take a look at this:




Dubbed the "Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban" and "Mr Speed Camera" by the national press, Brunstrom was without doubt the most controversial Policeman in the country and known for his obsession with fining speeding drivers and his calls to legalise cannabis, ecstasy and heroin.




Does Rees agree with ex-Boss Brunstrom's views? Well, its impossible to look inside and know a man's mind, but as recently as 2006 Rees sent a letter to the Daily Post defending his ex-Boss when Brunstrom was criticised for a funding crisis in the force (what happened to all those speeding ticket fines?). Furthermore, Rees has popped up numerous time (here, here, and here for example) with concerns over traffic and speeding on the Island -- so he obviously shares some of Brunstrom's fetish with traffic offences.

As an active officer until 2003 It would also be interesting to know Rees's position on ID Cards and New Labour's slavish policing 'targets'. If you're reading, Dylan, do let the Druid know.

So Is the Anointed One the right man for the Anglesey?

Rees seems a competent campaigner and politician. He spent five much-publicised days marching around Anglesey to highlight local Post Office closures and has even launched a YouTube campaign to save leisure facilities on Anglesey.

He has rightly attacked Labour MPs for their hipocracy over Post Office closures, but has himself publicly called for a reduction in prison numbers whilst at the same time calling for a new prison to be built in Anglesey! And even does so within the same press release!

However, what most worries the Druid about Rees's 'anointed one' status is his complete lack of any private-sector business experience. Ynys Môn is reeling from huge job losses...

  • Anglesey Aluminium, Holyhead - 400 jobs
  • Eaton Electric, Holyhead - 250 jobs
  • Eastman Chemical Company (Peboc), Llangefni - 100 jobs
  • Vion - Llangefni plant went down to one shift - 140 jobs
  • Menai Electrical, Gaerwen - 50 jobs
  • Anglesey Country Foods, Gaerwen - 200 jobs

…and this list doesn't include Octel or all the jobs lost at smaller companies which supported the larger ones above. On top of that, the only remaining large scale private-sector employer, Wylfa Power Station, will begin decommissioning later this year. What the Island needs now is jobs - lots and lots of jobs - and somebody with the experience and vision to help create them.

Now the Druid has nothing in particular against Plaid Cymru - true to his oath he only wants the best for Anglesey - but what kind of candidate does Plaid Cymru offer Anglesey in these terrible economic circumstances? A man who has worked in the public sector throughout his life and has no experience whatsoever about either how business works or how to create and keep jobs. (Furthermore as Plaid have selected two of Rees's brother officers in other seats in North Wales - one might ponder on the true value that Plaid Cymru really puts on enterprise and business).

The Druid hopes that Anglesey residents think very carefully about Dylan Rees's CV before casting a 'patriotic' vote for Plaid Cymru come the General Election.

P.S. Before anyone shouts bias - the Druid intends to investigate the suitability of all the candidates. I chose Rees first as he is the front runner.
 

Sunday, 17 January 2010

What most worries North Wales voters?

    
Its interesting to drill down a little into the small print of the latest YouGov Wales poll beyond just the voting intention figures.

Respondents were also asked to pick the three most important issues to them when deciding how to vote in the next election. Below you can see the issues selected by North Wales residents in comparison to those selected by All-Wales respondents:




The top three issues both in North Wales and nationally were the state of the economy, immigration and Health. Rather surprisingly considering Anglesey, Conwy and Denbighshire are amongst the three poorest counties in the  whole UK, North Wales respondents were comparatively more relaxed about the state of the economy than Wales as a whole. In fact with just 52% of the respondents selecting the economy in their Top Three, North Wales seems to be the most economically blasé region in Wales. Perhaps we in the North are just more used to a general crap economic state? Unemployment was the fourth most often cited concern - slightly contradictorily above the Wales average - but only to be expected after all the recent closures and job losses on Anglesey at least.

Another surprise was the fact that at 40% North Wales residents were the most worried about immigration in all of Wales. However with only 1% of North Wales respondents planning to vote for BNP - the equal lowest amount in Wales - concern about immigration does not seem to have been transferred to xenophobia.

Other notable differences between North Wales and the rest of the Nation was in relation to Health and Education. With much recent discussion about village schools being closed down in the North perhaps this is only to be expected.

For the rest of the issues North Wales was broadly in line with the rest of Wales.

Demographics of political support

The fine print of the YouGov poll also reveals the relative support for the main political parties amongst different age groups and social demographics.




Some particular points of interest (with thanks to Pete Whitehead at UK Polling Report) are:


  • most of Plaid Cymru's support comes from the Young and the Old - Plaid seem to have no appeal at all to people aged between 35-54.
  • the Tory share was higher amongst C2DE social groups than amongst ABC1s whilst Labour lead was almost the same in both categories. This may be a significant indicator come the election as Margaret Thatcher also famously commanded more support amongst C2DEs than ABC1s.
  • Labour and Tory both scored higher amongst the C2DE group with the Lib Dems and Plaid doing better amongst ABC1s.  

  Lots of food for thought there.
 

Friday, 15 January 2010

Some Electoral Arithmetic for Ynys Môn (updated)

    


      Prompted by the Ynys Môn Conservatives selection of Anthony Ridge-Newman, the Druid has been checking the odds William Hill is offering on the Anglesey election result:

                          Now             Nov '09

Plaid Cymru           1/3                1/3
Labour                  9/4                5/2
Conservative          12/1              10/1
Lib Dem                100/1            100/1

So, the Conservatives’ selection of an English candidate has lengthened their odds from 10/1 to 12/1, whilst the Labour odds have shortened very slightly to 9/4. But as far as William Hill are concerned at 1/3 Plaid Cymru’s Dylan Rees is Red Rum - he’s a racing certainty.

But are we really so sure that the results are this certain?

Wales-only Voting Intention polls are pretty thin on the ground, but YouGov published their first last November, and here are the headline figures for All-Wales (the comparison is with the 2005 General Election results in Wales):

Con 31% (+9.6)
Lab 34% (-8.7)
LD 12% (-6.4)
PC 15% (+2.4)

Now, in predicting the 2010 general election results in Ynys Môn, All-Wales polls aren’t actually all that helpful as Wales isn’t really a very homogenous place. North West, Mid and West Wales leans strongly towards Plaid Cymru, Labour is strong in the North and the South, with Conservative support picking up towards the borders with England. Luckily the November ’09 YouGov poll also include a break down of these results regionally. The North Wales results were:

Con 40%
Lab 29%
LD 10%
PC 16%

Now, if we compare these poll results with the actual 2005 election results in North Wales, we get the following figures (look at the bottom 2 lines of the chart):



click image to enlarge

The Plaid Cymru vote is pretty steady with the Lib Dems are slipping some 5%. However, the big news is a MASSIVE 13.3% swing from Labour to Conservative in North Wales.

What does this mean for Ynys Môn?

Of course the situation isn’t really homogenous in North Wales either but, frankly, its the best guide we can get from the data available. So, if for the sake of argument we assume that Peter Rogers decides not to stand (a very big assumption) and his support from 2005 swings behind the Conservatives, this is what this polling data predicts for Ynys Môn:



So what can we conclude?

  • Ynys Môn in 2010 is a three-way-marginal. If Peter Rogers decides not to stand, there only looks to be about 400 votes between Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. 
  • But we know that Peter Rogers not only split the Conservative vote in 2005 - he also took some Plaid Votes. If those voters fall in behind Plaid Cymru then Dylan Rees will just overtake Albert Owen and will be our next MP.
  • If however Peter Rogers DOES stand this year then the Conservatives are doomed and it will be a straight fight between Labour and Plaid - and probably much, much closer than William Hill is calling it.

Ynys Môn in 2010 is on a knife edge...
      
UPDATE: Another YouGov Wales-only voting intention poll, commissioned by ITV, has just come out here. The headline All-Wales figures are:

Con 32% (+1)
Lab 35% (+1)
LD 13% (+1)
PC 13% (-2)

YouGov don't seem to have published the regional data yet, but as soon as they do the Druid will re-compute the Ynys Môn 2010 prediction accordingly.

UPDATE 2: YouGov how now published the regional data of their latest Wales-only poll here. The figures for North Wales are:

Con 33% (-7)
Lab 34% (+5)
LD 11% (+1)
PC 17% (+1)

The comparisons are with the previous November YouGov Wales poll we discussed avbove. The North Wales sample is only a very small 236 people so there is more than enough room for error - however if we calculate the change from the 2005 General Election results as before we get:



Using this swing data to recalculate the predicted Ynys Môn result this year (with all the same assumptions as earlier) we get:



The Conservatives now seem to be out of it - with or without Peter Rogers standing - and it looks like a pretty close fight between Labour and Plaid Cymru - Albert Owen still has everything to fight for.
  
UPDATE 3: Thanks to Meurig in comments for pointing out that YouGov does not include the Meirionydd Nant Conwy area in their definition of 'North Wales'. The Druid has recalculated accordingly to give a more accurate prediction. So the revised YouGov North Wales numbers compared with 2005 General Election results in North Wales (excluding Meirionydd Nant Conwy) are as follows:



And the revised Ynys Môn predicted result based on these updated numbers are:



The gap between Labour and Plaid Cymru is now down to less than 100 votes. Dylan Rees may or may not be Red Rum - but its going to be a photofinish!